Registered nurse Barbara Tuite had hoped to work a few more years at her job at a state mental health facility, but decided to retire earlier so she could care for her husband after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a construction accident.
In 2010, she and her husband, Joseph Tuite, moved from their home of 32 years in the village of Schoharie to a home in the town of Schoharie. The white Colonial house came with about 30 acres of land, plenty to build an addition to the white Colonial and add a swimming pool, decks and other amenities that their grandchildren and great children could enjoy during their visits.
"We put an addition on to house an elevator because my husband is disabled," Barbara Tuite, a mother of five adult children, said. "It's an old farmhouse. We put a lot of money into it to make it handicapped accessible."
Then last year, the couple began getting notices from representatives of the Constitution Pipeline company, encouraging them to allow surveyors onto the property.
Eventually, she said, they learned that the company's preferred route for the 124.4-mile natural gas transmission system would traverse their property.
In recent days, after government regulators urged the company to release construction maps for the route, the Tuites learned that the pipeline would run less than 125 feet from their house and 44 feet from their pole barn.
"We've used our yard for family weddings and church picnics," Barbara Tuite said. "We have a beautiful view of the countryside from our yard. But if this happens, the yard will be filled with construction equipment and the house will be almost surrounded by it. We feel very threatened right now."
As she reflected on the proximity of the pipe to the house, Barbara Tuite said, she broke out with the hives last weekend. "Worrying about this is what brought it on," she said.
If they attempted to sell the house now, she said, she and her husband would lose the tens of thousands of dollars the have invested in the property. Going back to work is also out of the question, she said, citing her and her husband's physical condition. She said she will turn 66 next month, and the husband, 63, needs a wheelchair.
According to the Constitution Pipeline's web site, approximately 85 to 125 feet of workspace will be required during the construction of the project. Should the project and its proposed route be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, that would put the crew and equipment right up along side the house, Barbara Tuite said.
"I'm not going to feel safe for the children and babies when they stay with us, she said.
Company representatives have said they expect the pipeline will be safely operated. Its website seeks to ease safety concerns, noting the system will be equipped with "design features and operating practices that will exceed already stringent industry and regulatory safety standards."
The safety measures include equipping the system with remote controlled shut-off valves that will be monitored 24 hours a day, according to the company. The pipe will also get "more frequent inspections than are required by law, including regular inspections with highly-sophisticated internal inspection tools, said the company, made up a consortium of energy companies led by Williams Partners of Houston, which has a 41 percent stake in the project.
In a draft environmental impact statement released this week, the FERC staff gave the green light to the pipeline route and said any adverse environmental impacts could be lessened through mitigation. Ultimately, the FERC commissioners will decide if the project is licensed, a decision expected to be made later this year.
While the Tuites have refused to allow land surveyors onto their property and refused to sign an easement agreement presented by the pipeline company, Barbara Tuite said she is aware the company could end up getting eminent domain authority to get the right of way to build the project.
"We just want to hand this down to our grandchildren," she said. "This is our legacy for them."